فصل 13

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Chapter thirteen

A Vacation

I was going on a vacation. Daddy Bailey invited me to spend the summer with him in southern California and I was nervous with excitement. Since our father’s characteristic attitude was one of superiority, I secretly expected him to live in a huge house surrounded by a large yard and serviced by a paid staff.

Daddy Bailey had a girlfriend, who had begun writing letters to me some months before, and she would meet me at the train. We had agreed to wear white flowers to identify ourselves. On the platform I saw a little girl who wore a white flower, but dismissed her as improbable. The platform emptied as we walked by each other time after time. Finally she stopped me with a disbelieving “Marguerite?” Her voice sounded shocked and mature. So, she wasn’t a little girl. I, too, was surprised.

She said, “I’m Dolores Stockland.”

Shocked but trying to sound well mannered, I said, “Hello. My name is Marguerite.”

Daddy’s girlfriend? I guessed that she was in her early twenties. Her suit, shoes, and gloves informed me that she was well-dressed and serious. I thought that if she was planning to marry our father she must have been scared to find that his daughter was nearly six feet tall and not even pretty. (I found out later that Daddy Bailey had told her that his children were eight and nine years old and good-looking.) I was another link in a long chain of disappointments. Daddy had promised to marry her but kept delaying until he finally married another woman. Instead of owning a huge house and servants, Daddy lived in a small house on the outskirts of town. Dolores lived there with him and kept the house clean and orderly. She loved him, and her life would have been perfect. And then I arrived.

She tried hard to make me into something she could reasonably accept. Her first attempt, which failed completely, concerned my attention to details. I was asked, begged, then ordered to take care of my room. My willingness to do so was made difficult by my ignorance of how it should be done and my awkwardness with small objects. The dresser in my room was covered with little breakable objects. If and when I remembered to dust them, I always held one too tightly and broke off a leg or two, or too loosely and dropped it, and it broke into pieces.

Dad spoke Spanish well, and since I had studied for a year, we were able to have short conversations. I believe that my talent with a foreign language was the only quality I had that impressed Dolores. She couldn’t attempt the strange sounds. Admittedly, though, her English, like everything else about her, was absolutely perfect.

We had a test of strength for weeks as Dad watched, not getting involved but greatly enjoying himself. He was amused and seemed to enjoy our discomfort. He asked me once if I “liked my mother.” I thought he meant my mother, so I answered yes-she was beautiful and happy and very kind. He said he wasn’t talking about Vivian; he meant Dolores. Then I explained that I didn’t like her because she was mean. He laughed. When I added that she didn’t like me because I was tall and arrogant and wasn’t clean enough for her, he laughed harder and said something like, “Well, that’s life.”

One evening he announced that on the next day he was going to Mexico to buy food for the weekend. There was nothing unusual about his announcement until he added that he was taking me along. He filled the shocked silence with the information that a trip to Mexico would give me an opportunity to practice Spanish.

Dolores’ silence might have been the result of a jealous reaction, but mine was caused by total surprise. My father had not shown any particular pride in me and very little love. He had not taken me to his friends or to southern California’s few points of interest. It was unbelievable that I was being included in something as exciting as a trip to Mexico. Well, I quickly reasoned, I deserved it. I was his daughter, and my vacation wasn’t what I had expected a vacation to be.

In the morning, we started on the foreign adventure. The dirt roads of Mexico satisfied my desire for an unusual experience. Dad gave no explanation as we drove through the border town and headed for the interior. After a few miles we were stopped by a uniformed guard. He and Dad exchanged familiar greetings and Dad got out of the car. He reached back into the pocket on the door and took a bottle of alcohol into the guards kiosk. They laughed and talked for over a half hour as I sat in the car and tried to translate the quiet sounds. Eventually they came out and walked to the car. Dad still had the bottle but it was only half full. He asked the guard if he would like to marry me. At once the guard leaned into the car and patted my cheek. He told Dad that he would marry me and we would have “many babies.” My father thought that was the funniest thing he had heard since we left home. After many adioses Dad started the car, and we were on our way again.

Signs informed me that we were heading for Ensenada. On that journey along the twisted roads beside the steep mountain, I feared that I would never get back to America, civilization, English, and wide streets again. Our destination was, in fact, not the town of Ensenada, but a place about five miles out of the city limits. We pulled up in the dirt yard of a cantina, where half-clothed children chased mean-looking chickens around and around. The noise of the car brought women to the door of the old building.

A woman’s voice sang out, “Bailey, Bailey.” And suddenly a group of women crowded to the door and overflowed into the yard. Dad told me to get out of the car, and we went to meet the women. He explained quickly that I was his daughter, which everyone thought was uncontrollably funny. We were taken into a large room with a bar at one end. There were a few men sitting at the bar, and they greeted my father with relaxed familiarity. I was taken around and each person was told my name and age. People patted me on the back, shook Dad’s hand, and spoke a rapid Spanish that I was unable to follow. Bailey was the hero of the hour, and as he responded to the open show of friendship I saw a new side of the man.

It seemed hard to believe that he was a lonely person, searching in bottles of alcohol, under women’s skirts, in church work and important job titles for his “personal place,” lost before birth and never recovered. It was obvious to me then that he had never belonged in Stamps, and belonged even less to the slow-moving, slow-thinking Johnson family.

In the Mexican bar Dad was relaxed, which I had never seen before.’ There was no need to pretend in front of those poor Mexican farmers. As he was, just being himself, he was impressive enough to them. He was an American. He was Black. He spoke Spanish well. He had money and he could drink alcohol with the best of them. The women liked him too. He was tall and handsome and generous.

It was a party. Someone put on music, and drinks were served to all the customers. I was given a warm Coca-Cola. I was asked to dance. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow the steps, but Dad nodded and encouraged me to try.

I had been enjoying myself for at least an hour before I realized it. I was happy, Dad was proud, and my new friends were pleasant. I ate, danced, screamed, and drank the extra-sweet and sticky Coca-Cola. As newcomers joined the celebration I was introduced as la nina de Bailey, and was quickly accepted.

As the sun went down, I realized that I hadn’t seen my father for a long time. When the dance finished, I made my way through the crowd of people. I was frightened. He wasn’t in the room. Had he made an arrangement with the guard back at the pass? I wouldn’t have been surprised. The thought of it made my knees weak. Dad was gone. He was probably halfway back home with the money from selling me in his pocket. I had to get to the door, which seemed a very long distance away.

Seen through the open door, Dad’s car looked beautiful. He hadn’t left me. I immediately felt better. I decided to sit in his car and wait for him, since he couldn’t have gone far. I knew he was with a woman, and the more I thought about it, it was easy to figure which one of the senoritas he had taken away. She had been the first to rush to him, and that was when he quickly said, “This is my daughter. She speaks Spanish.” If Dolores knew, she would die. The thought of that kept me happy for a long time.

It was getting darker. I began to feel afraid as I considered the possibility of sitting in the car all night alone. I tried to stop the flood of fear. Why was I afraid of the Mexicans? They had been kind to me and surely my father wouldn’t allow his daughter to be treated badly. Would he? How could he leave me in that bar and go off with his woman? Did he care what happened to me? Not at all, I decided, and began to cry. I was going to die, after all, in a Mexican dirt yard. I would depart from this life without recognition.

I recognized his shadow in the near-dark and was ready to jump out and run to him when I noticed that he was being supported by a small woman I had seen earlier and a man. They guided him toward the door of the cantina. If he got inside we might never leave. I got out of the car and went to them. I asked Dad if he would like to get into the car and rest a little. He recognized me and answered that that was exactly what he wanted; he was a little tired, and he’d like to rest before we left. He told his friends his wishes in Spanish and they led him to the car. When I opened the front door, he said, “No.” He’d lie down on the back seat for a little while. We got him into the car and he fell asleep immediately.

I thought fast as the couple laughed and spoke to me in Spanish that I couldn’t understand. I had never driven a car before, but I had watched carefully and my mother was declared to be the best driver in San Francisco. She declared it, at least. I was extremely intelligent and had good physical skills. Of course I could drive. I asked the Mexican man to turn the car around, again in my wonderful high school Spanish, and it took about fifteen minutes to make myself understood. He got in and headed the car toward the highway. He showed his understanding of the situation by his next action. He left the motor running. I put my foot on the accelerator, moved the gear-shift, and with a loud roar we were out of the yard.

I drove down the mountainside toward Calexico, about fifty miles away. When it became totally dark, I felt around until I finally succeeded in finding the lights. The car slowed down as I concentrated on that search, and the engine stopped. A sound from the back seat told me that Dad had fallen off the seat. I pulled the hand brake and carefully considered my next move. We were headed downhill, so I reasoned that with luck we might roll all the way to Calexico-or at least to the guard. I released the brake and we began rolling down the slope. I also stepped on the accelerator, hoping that action would speed our descent, and the motor started. The car went crazily down the hill. The challenge of controlling it was exciting. It was me, Marguerite, driving the car. As I turned the driving wheel and forced the accelerator to the floor, I was controlling Mexico, and aloneness, and inexperienced youth, and Bailey Johnson, Sr., and death and insecurity.

Eventually the road became level and we started passing scattered lights on each side of the road. No matter what happened after that, I had won. The car began to slow down but we finally reached the guard’s box. I pulled on the hand brake and came to a stop. I had to wait until the guard looked into the car and gave me the signal to continue. He was busy talking to people in a car facing the mountain I had just defeated. When he stood up and shouted “Pasa I was surprised. I released the brake, put my foot on the accelerator too quickly. The car leaped left as well as forward and went into the side of the car just leaving. The crash of metal was followed immediately by Spanish shouting from all directions. Strengthened by the excitement that had flooded my brain as we came down the mountainside, I had never felt better. I got out of the car.

The family, eight or more people of every age and size, walked around me, talking excitedly. Someone got the idea to look into the car, and a scream stopped us all. People-there seemed to be hundreds-crowded to the windows and there were more screams. I thought for a minute that something awful might have happened, but then I remembered the sounds of my father sleeping. The family came back, this time not as close but more threatening. When I was able to understand one question, “Quien es?” I answered without concern, “Mi padre!’ Since they were people with close family ties and weekly parties, they suddenly understood the situation. I was a poor little girl who was caring for my drunken father, who had stayed too long at the party.

The guard began waking Dad. When he woke up, he asked, “Quepasa? Que quiere?” Anyone else would have asked, “Where am I?” Obviously, this was a common Mexican experience. When I knew that he could understand I went to the car, calmly pushed the people away, and said, “Dad, there’s been an accident.” He recognized me slowly and became my pre-Mexican-party father.

“An accident?” he asked. “Whose fault was it? Yours, Marguerite? Was it your fault?”

“Yes, Dad, I drove into a car.”

“In the box. The insurance papers. Get them, give them to the police, and then come back.”

The guard asked Dad to get out of the car. My father reached in the box and took out the folded papers and the half bottle of alcohol he had left there earlier. He laughed, got out of the car, and put his arm around the other driver’s shoulder. He spoke to the guard, and the three men walked into the kiosk. Within minutes, laughter burst from the kiosk and the crisis was over. But so was the enjoyment.

Dad shook hands with all the men, patted the children, and smiled at the women. Then, and without looking at the damaged cars, he sat in the driver’s seat and called me to get in. As if he had not been helplessly drunk a half hour earlier, he drove home. He said he didn’t know I could drive, and how did I like his car? I was angry that he had recovered so quickly and disappointed that he didn’t appreciate the greatness of my achievement. So I answered “yes” to both the statement and the question. Before we reached the border he rolled down the window, and the fresh air was uncomfortably cold. We drove into the city in a cold private silence.

Dolores was sitting, it seemed, in the same place as the night before. Dad said, “Hello, kid,” and walked toward the bathroom. I greeted her, “Hello, Dolores,” and went to my room. Within minutes an argument began in the living room.

“Bailey, you’ve let your children come between us.”

“Kid, you’re too sensitive. The children-my children-can’t come between us, unless you let them.”

“How can I stop it?” She was crying. “Bailey, you know I wanted to like your children, but they…” She couldn’t make herself describe us. “I’m marrying you. I don’t want to marry your children.”

“That’s your problem, woman. I’m going out. Goodnight.”

The front door shut loudly. Dolores cried quietly.

In my room, I thought my father was mean and cruel. He had enjoyed his Mexican holiday, and still was unable to offer a bit of kindness to the woman who had waited patiently. I felt sorry and even a little guilty. I had enjoyed myself, too. There was nothing fair or kind about the way my father treated her, so I decided to go out and comfort her. I stood in the center of the floor but Dolores never even looked up. I said in my nicest voice, “Dolores, I don’t mean to come between you and Dad. I wish you’d believe me.”

With her head still bent down she said, “No one was speaking to you, Marguerite. It’s rude to listen to other people’s conversations.”

“I wasn’t listening. These walls are so thin a deaf person could have heard what you said. I thought I’d tell you that I have no interest in coming between you and my father. That’s all.” I turned to go.

“No, that’s not all.” She looked up. “Why don’t you go back to your mother? If you’ve got one.”

“I’ve got one, and she’s much better than you, prettier, too, and intelligent and-“

“And”-her voice reached a high point-“she’s a prostitute.” The awful accusation struck not so much at my daughterly love as at the basis of my new existence. If there was a chance that it was true, I would not be able to live, to continue to live with Mother. And I wanted to very much.

Angry, I walked over to Dolores and hit her. She jumped out of her chair, and before I could jump back, she had her arms around me. Neither of us made a sound until I finally pushed her back on to the sofa. Then she started screaming.

I walked out of the house. On the steps I felt something wet on my arm, looked down, and found blood. I was cut. Dolores opened the door, screaming still, and ran like a crazy woman down the stairs. I saw a hammer in her hand and ran. I jumped in Dad’s car, rolled up the windows, and locked the door. Dolores ran around the car, screaming like a crazy person.

Daddy Bailey and the neighbors he was visiting responded to the screams and crowded around her. My father motioned to me to open the window. When I did, he said that he would take Dolores inside but I should stay in the car. He would be back to take care of me.

My father came down the steps in a few minutes and angrily got in the car. He sat in a corner of blood and felt the dampness on his pants.

“What the hell is this?” he asked.

I said calmly, “I’ve been cut.”

“When? By whom?”

“Dolores cut me.”

“How badly?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

He started the car and took me to his friends’ house. I followed the woman to a bedroom, and she asked me where I was hurt. I pulled off my dress and we both looked at the wound on my side, which had begun to heal. She washed it with medicine and put a bandage on it. Then we went into the living room. Dad shook hands with the man he’d been talking to, thanked my emergency nurse, and we left.

In the car he explained that he had telephoned other friends and made arrangements for me to spend the night with them. At another strange house I was taken in and given night clothes and a bed. Dad said he’d see me at noon the next day.

In the morning I made and ate a big breakfast and sat down with a magazine to wait for Dad. At fifteen, life had taught me that surrender, sometimes, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice. When my father came, he asked how I felt, gave me a dollar and a half and a kiss, and said he’d return late in the evening. He laughed as usual. Was he nervous?

Alone, I imagined the owners returning to find me in their house, and realized that I didn’t even remember what they looked like. How could I accept their pity? If I disappeared Dad would be glad; Dolores would be happy, too. What would I do? Then I thought of Bailey. What would he do? He ordered me to leave.

I made a few sandwiches, put a bandage supply in my pocket, counted my money (I had over three dollars plus some Mexican coins), and walked out. When I heard the door close, I knew my decision was final. I didn’t have a key and nothing would make me stand around until Dad’s friends returned to pityingly let me back in.

I was free, and I started thinking about my future. The obvious solution to my homelessness concerned me only briefly. I could go home to Mother, but I couldn’t. I could never succeed in hiding the cut in my side from her. And if I failed to hide the wound we were certain to experience another scene of violence. I thought of poor Mr. Freeman, and the guilt which remained in my heart, even after all those years, returned.

I spent the day wandering through the streets. I went to the library and used part of my day reading. I used its washroom to change my bandage.

On one street I passed a yard filled with old abandoned cars. As I walked through them, a temporary solution came to mind. I would find a clean car and spend the night in it. In my optimistic ignorance I thought that I’d think of a more pleasant solution in the morning. The idea of sleeping outdoors strengthened my sense of freedom. After deciding on a car, I got inside and ate the sandwiches. I decided to sit there and wait for sleep.

The morning’s brightness awoke me and I was surrounded with strangeness. When I sat up, I saw a mixture of Negro,

Mexican, and white faces outside the windows. They were laughing. They looked so curious that I knew they wouldn’t go away before they knew who I was, so I opened the door and got out. I was asked my name, where I came from, and what led me to the abandoned cars. They accepted my explanation that I was from San Francisco, that my name was Marguerite but that I was called Maya, and that I had no place to stay. They welcomed me and said I could stay as long as I honored their rule: No two people of opposite s@x slept together. In fact everyone had his own private sleeping place. There was no stealing because a crime would bring the police. Everyone worked at something, and all the money was shared by the whole community.

During the month I spent there, my thinking processes changed so I hardly recognized myself. My old insecurity was gone as a result of the unquestioning acceptance by the others. After looking for unbroken bottles and selling them with a white girl from Missouri, a Mexican girl from Los Angeles, and a Black girl from Oklahoma, I never again felt so completely separated from the rest of society. The lack of criticism in our community influenced me, and made me tolerant for life.

I telephoned Mother (her voice reminded me of another world) and asked her to send for me. When she said she was going to send my air ticket to Daddy, I explained that it would be easier if she sent the fare to the airline, then I’d pick it up. She agreed. After I picked up my ticket I announced rather casually that I would be leaving the following day. Everyone wished me well.

I arrived in San Francisco, thinner than usual, dirty, and with no luggage. Mother took one look and said, “Isn’t there enough to eat at your father’s? You’d better have some food to stick to those bones.”

I was home, again. And my mother was a fine lady. Dolores was a fool and, more important, a liar.

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